As usual, the initial fighting broke out in the west. Henry de Montfort scored an early triumph by bottling up Edward in Gloucester, but then unwisely accepted his cousin’s call for a truce. He had no sooner withdrawn his forces when Edward sacked the town and slipped away, causing Simon to bitterly reproach his son. The king meanwhile began gathering a large army at Oxford, where one of his first acts was to expel the student population. His intention, he explained, was to protect them from the savagery of his Scottish allies, but in fact he was clearly miffed by their true sympathies. Henry’s growing strength allowed him to brush aside a last-ditch offer by his opponents to respect Louis’ ruling on every point except the alien officials. The advantage was all his after he seized the Montfortian stronghold of Northampton, which was betrayed by local clergymen. The loss was devastating. Among the eighty barons and knights made prisoner were the younger Simon and many leading members of the movement. Montfort refused to despair. “War is such that the advantage first goes to these, then to those,” he declared and followed up by predicting that the enemy would be consumed by fear and confusion before May was out. London, however, was gripped by panic as word spread it was about to be betrayed like Northampton, resulting in the plunder and massacre of the Jews. As royalist forces burned and butchered their way through local hamlets, Simon attempted to draw them south by laying siege to their garrison in Rochester, whose inhabitants were subjected to a similar bloodletting. With barely London left to the reformist party, Simon gambled everything on seeking out and giving battle to the king. The two sides squared off in Sussex, with the royalists encamped in and around the village of Lewes and the Montfortians eight miles away in Fletching. Simon sent his bishop friends to Henry to reiterate his offer of peace if the king would observe only the provision prohibiting alien officials, sweetening it now to include 30,000 marks in compensation. Henry was inclined to accept, but Richard, aggrieved that his property had been ransacked, was against it, as was Edward. The one-time idealist and reformer declared that peace was only possible if his uncle and the others came to them with halters around their necks.
The turmoil resulted in much spoliation of property, the ruffians playing a major role in it, and the demands for restitution prevented Simon from governing in any meaningful way. He succeeded in repatriating Edward’s mercenaries, but this had the unintended effect of drawing the Edwardians, whose prime mission had been to rid the country of aliens, back to their former master. Simon was also in danger of losing the friendship of Louis, who was horrified by the stories of violence and pillage relayed to him by Queen Eleanor and her relatives. But then, at an informal arbitration set up at Henry’s request, Louis surprised them all by confirming the Provisions and agreeing that England should be ruled by natives instead of foreigners. But it was a hollow victory, for when parliament convened in October 1263 to deal with restitution, Edward stole the initiative by slipping away to Windsor, seizing the castle, and fortifying himself there with Henry. They then proceeded to employ their mightiest weapon: bargaining power. With promises of grants and fees, Edward won over his cousin Henry of Almain and, more importantly, his former retainers. Collecting men and arms, Edward and Henry began rolling over the countryside with their two armies, reclaiming castles and evicting local authorities loyal to the provisional government. Their point of convergence was Simon’s dwindling forces just south of London, where they seemingly had them trapped after a group of royalists barred the city gates to them. Simon scoffed at Henry’s call to surrender. “Never to perjurers and apostates,” he declared and swore together with his men to fight to the last. His sympathizers on the other side of the walls managed to break open the gates in time and secure their safe passage inside. The way was still open to a peaceful settlement when Louis offered to officially arbitrate the dispute over the Provisions and both parties agreed to abide by his award. The letters sealed by Simon and Henry show how vast the defections from the popular movement had been. Of the royalists named as supporters of the king, nearly half had been involved at one time or another in the reform movement: Edward, Henry of Almain, John de Warenne, Roger and Hugh Bigod, Hamo Lestrange, etc. They were all now prepared to let the Provisions go by the wayside. But at least Simon could count on Louis.
Edward was the first to return. Scolded by his father for “indolence and wantoness” while the Welsh ravaged the marches, he landed with a large mercenary force of Burgundians and other French-speaking soldiers. His jilted retainers had half-expected him to take them back into his service, but he completely ignored them and bestowed castles and other key posts on his new, alien followers. Incensed, they welcomed Simon de Montfort home as the one leader who had always been faithful to the Provisions, who was capable of enforcing the one provision they desired above all else: expulsion of the aliens. It was, of course, the great irony of this conflict that the English would turn to an alien for this purpose. Simon’s military reputation and unwavering defense of the Provisions made him the undisputed leader of this rebellious force that gathered in Oxford, where the reform program had been launched five years earlier. New adherents included many younger members of the baronage, among them Henry’s nephew Henry of Almain and the new earl of Gloucester, Gilbert de Clare, men later decried for being pliable as wax in the hands of a man like Montfort. He would need such idealists to offset the violence and unruliness of the Edwardians, who immediately went to work after Henry rebuffed one last call to observe the Provisions. They struck east, targeting the Savoyards and other aliens, even making knowledge of English a prerequisite to avoid reprisals. Locals long fed up with nobles, knights and clergymen who couldn’t speak their language joined in the mayhem until Henry found himself faced with a full-scale uprising. Richard rode off to intercede with Simon, but missed him on his march to secure the coast and trap Henry in London. But even that city was lost after Edward, needing money to pay off his mercenaries, staged the first great bank robbery in English history when he broke into the New Temple and seized the private deposits there. His mother grew sufficiently alarmed by the growing hostility to try to flee to Windsor by boat, but her barge was turned back after being pummeled with all manner of filth and flying objects thrown at her by a jeering crowd on London Bridge. She and her kinsmen eventually escaped to the continent, but for Henry it was all too much. He agreed to the restraints on his power enacted in 1258 and to the council naming his officials and conducting official policy. The only difference was the council was now controlled by Simon de Montfort.
Henry’s basic grievance was that the barons had gone beyond the intentions of the Provisions. They had met and acted without him, kept him impoverished while enriching themselves, failed him in his foreign policy pursuits, all undeniably true and lamentable since he, the king, had every desire to rule by the Provisions. His summoning parliament as required by them was the most obvious example of his good faith. Whether chastened or not, the barons were caught off guard as Henry secretly moved to usurp full authority. He secured Dover and the Cinque Ports to ensure the arrival of mercenaries, placed his own men in key positions, and relocated to Winchester, his birthplace, where he subsequently announced that the pope had absolved him of his oath to observe the Provisions. The barons united again under Gloucester and Simon, but they could no longer count on Edward’s support. At first the heir refused to accept the absolution for himself, but was eventually won over by his mother. He also arrived with William de Valence, the hated Lusignan whose deportation had been the groundwork for the original Provisions, then left again for Gascony after his uncle was restored to favor. But Henry’s treachery cost him allies too. Hugh Bigod, turned out as castellan in Dover, defected back to the barons and was joined by his half-brother John de Warenne, the only magnate who had refused the initial oath to the Provisions in 1258. The king’s biggest problem, however, was the resistance he faced on a local level. When he attempted to supplant the sheriffs with his own men, Simon saw to it that the barons installed their own rival sheriffs (referred to as “wardens” so as not to create any confusion). He then went abroad to plead their case before Louis, to raise foreign troops, and in what was perhaps his most defiant act, he and Gloucester summoned their own parliament, consisting of local knights, to meet in St. Albans and discuss what to do about the king’s subversion. Henry refused to back down and countered with his own parliament in Windsor. The standoff was broken when Gloucester again deserted to the king, this time bribed by the favors of Queen Eleanor. In a treaty made at Kingston in November 1261, the reformers agreed to renegotiate the Provisions with Richard, the king of the Romans, acting as arbitrator. This clear defeat of the reforming program left Simon disgusted. He departed for France, saying he would rather live in poverty than in perjury.
Father and son were soon reconciled, mostly because Henry, whatever his other faults, was a devoted family man. Relations between the Lord Edward, as he was called at the time, and his uncle remained amiable, even after the king vengefully ordered Montfort to stand trial for obstructing the peace treaty and defying his orders. Clare, worried that his part in defaming Edward would become known, managed to get the trial delayed. Then an uprising by the Welsh forced Henry to turn to Simon for his military skills and the trial soon was shelved for good. The parliament of October 1260 marked Montfort’s return to government as an ally of Edward, who knighted his sons Henry and Simon. The council even allowed him to appoint Richard’s son Henry of Almain to represent him in his official capacity as steward of England, another move which offended the king. More notably, he reached a compromise with Clare to have the top crown officials replaced with his supporters and Edward’s in return for agreeing to modify local reforms to better suit the interests of magnates like Clare. Even so, one of the first acts of the new justiciar, Montfortian Hugh Despenser, was to hear cases against magnate Peter of Savoy, one of the Seven but now completely in the king’s camp. Henry fumed about these appointments, but his circle of advisers – the queen and her Savoyard relatives – urged him to bide his time. They had a plan in place that would quash the Provisions and make Henry the master of his realm again. The first part called for letting Edward go abroad to joust and carouse with a large retinue that included his Montfort cousins. The removal of these young idealists would give Henry a free hand to purge his council of Clare and Simon, who in any case had gone to France with Eleanor for the probate action she launched against her Lusignan half-brothers. While there, Simon asked Louis to arbitrate between him and Henry, and both kings agreed. As desperate as Henry was to mollify his sister and brother-in-law, his more immediate concern was carrying out the second part of the plan. As stipulated by the Provisions, he summoned parliament to meet in February 1261, only the venue was the Tower of London. Clare, Simon and the other magnates arrived to find armed militia waiting in the wings. “Now, gentlemen,” said the king.
At the opening of parliament in October, a group calling itself the ‘community of the bachelors of England’ demanded that the barons quit stalling and reform the entire realm, including themselves. The bachelors were probably knights, summoned to represent the counties and clearly disappointed by the lack of progress being made on a local level. An ‘eyre’, or circuit court, had been launched during the initial phase of reform to address grievances against magnates and sheriffs, but the backlog of cases overwhelmed the justiciar, Hugh Bigod. These knights found an unwitting ally in Edward, who was all for the barons getting a taste of their own medicine. Whether shamed or bullied into action, parliament subsequently enacted the Provisions of Westminster, an updated version of the Provisions of Oxford that provided more legislative muscle for local concerns. Edward also swore an oath at this time to aid Simon in the movement. Like his uncle, Edward had wrangled with the crafty earl of Gloucester, the chief impediment to reform, though his reasons were more personal. Clare was one of the more ardent proponents of the treaty with France, which the heir to the throne saw as infringing on his future rights. The treaty itself was finally ready, and toward the end of November Henry crossed over to France to ratify it with Louis. He was expected back by the end of January, for the Provisions had set 2 February for the first of the three parliaments the king was required to hold every year. Citing unfinished business, Henry wrote to Bigod that he was delayed and that no parliament should be held without him. Simon was having none of it, and when his former confederate Bigod refused to defy the king, he and Edward began preparing for armed conflict. Clare began his own campaign, insinuating to Henry that his son was planning to seize the throne. Still, the king lingered on the continent. Not until April did he arrive, at which time he submitted a list of those who attendance in parliament he looked forward to with anticipation. Neither Simon nor Edward was on the list.
Henry’s years of misrule were seemingly at an end. The provisions adopted at Oxford were akin to an unwritten constitution that put the king in a straightjacket. No more flagrant favoritism, no more arbitrary taxation, no more foreign fiascos. For knights, tenants and townsfolk, the office of justiciar was revived to root out corrupt sheriffs and bailiffs. The provision indicated by later chroniclers as the root cause of the war was number Five, which decreed that anyone who attempted to subvert the Provisions be declared an enemy of the people. To this end, Henry was asked to swear an oath to abide by them and did so with no resistance. He had, after all, sworn to uphold Magna Carta many times and got away with every violation. After initially refusing, Edward also took the oath, as did his cousin Henry of Almaine, who had vainly sought to avoid it by saying he needed his father Richard’s permission first. The magnates themselves were leery about their own oaths. The earl of Gloucester for one had only wanted something done about the Lusignans. Reform of the realm might well endanger his position as a leading peer. Simon too supposedly wavered. A deeply introspective man, partly as the result of his friendship with Oxford scholar Adam Marsh and other Franciscans, he was troubled by the debts he had incurred, the oppressive demands he made on his tenants in order to meet them, and by Eleanor breaking her vow of celibacy to marry him. Accepting the Provisions might atone for these transgressions, but more importantly, failing to defend them would be mortifying to a man brought up in the aura of crusading virtue. His oath to this new faith, as it were, would have to be total, demanding for starters that his body and soul undergo rigors worthy of a religious conversion. Henceforth he would awake at midnight for prayer, eat frugally, dress only in plain garments, even in the company of the nobility, and abstain from sexual relations.
The Lusignans were despised for their arrogance and lawlessness, not least by Queen Eleanor. She saw these ill-bred in-laws among other things as competition for Henry’s patronage, despite the fact that her own relatives had been fed well at the royal trough. But when the two French factions came to blows, Henry stood by his brothers, even temporarily depriving Eleanor of her queen’s gold as a warning against her meddling. Once she got her income back, much of it had to be diverted to free her Uncle Thomas, just as a large part of Henry’s resources were being used to prop up his Sicilian scheme. That left a meager parental allowance for Edward, now a long-legged prince with his own affinity for lawless behavior. Since returning from the continent, he and his retinue had been running roughshod over the countryside, pillaging and plundering whatever they pleased. Bereft of money from his parents, Edward found that his uncles, the Lusignans, were doing nicely buying up Jewish bonds on the cheap and threw in his lot with them. Eleanor fretted over her eldest son, the heir to the throne, consorting with these disreputable thugs, but Henry refused to be budged from his allegiance to them. They offered him the thing he valued most, unconditional loyalty, especially at a time when even the weather and Welsh had turned against him.
It had been Henry’s intention to come to Gascony and show that it could be ruled with peace and understanding. When he arrived in 1253, he found he had a war on his hands and that some of his subjects, again led by the queen’s relations, had switched their allegiance to the king of neighboring Castile. He not only had to resort to the same harsh tactics employed by de Montfort but even asked his brother-in-law to come and lend his military expertise. Simon grudgingly went, motivated by loyalty and his spiritual adviser, Robert Grosseteste, who reminded him not to forget all the benefits he had received from Henry. The king’s treachery was not forgotten, however, and de Montfort made him pay dearly in compensation. In the end, Henry’s campaign proved to be his only successful adventure abroad. He won over the Gascons to his son’s overlordship and got Alfonso, the king of Castile, to give up rival claims to the region by having Edward marry his half-sister, the third Eleanor in this story.
Henry’s policy in Gascony was an absolute mess. The province was nominally Richard’s, but now, at the queen’s insistence, it was to be given to their teenage son Edward. Eleanor wanted it pacified, but not at the expense of her Gascon relatives, who were creating most of the trouble there. The king thought that by playing good cop to his lieutenant’s bad cop, he could win the affection of his subjects in the region. When Simon learned that his archenemy, the archbishop of Bordeaux, had left for England with a delegation to denounce him, he raced back across France to head them off. Although he arrived in good time, he found Henry in ill-humor and ready to believe the worst about him. Wanting to at least give the pretense of fairness, the king assembled a panel of the leading peers to render a verdict. Something of an unofficial transcript still survives from this trial, provided in the comments by our advocates.
Impressed by this practical approach, the pope gave his blessing. The marriage was further helped by the arrival of their firstborn eleven months after the secret wedding, which should have quashed certain nasty rumors circulating about. They named the boy after Henry, and when the king’s own firstborn finally arrived the following year, he was named Edward in honor of Edward the Confessor, Henry’s true inspiration for building Westminster Abbey. Young Henry de Montfort would become Edward’s first boyhood companion, later his jailer after the baronial forces captured his cousin during the civil war. When Edward escaped and rallied the royalists to defeat the opposition once and for all, young Henry fell fighting alongside his father. It is reported that Edward wept upon seeing his body lying on the field of slaughter, but then he had made sure this particular battle, at Evesham in 1265, ended in slaughter.